May 27, 2015


Washington, D.C. - Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and 135 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives today sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for DHS to end its use of family detention facilities. Multiple reports documenting excessively long detention times, developmental delays in children, and poor, neglectful healthcare in the DHS centers prompted the lawmakers' letter. 

"Women and children fleeing violence and abuse who come to America looking for safety are not hardened criminals, they're refugees,"? said Rep. Castro. "We should treat them with compassion, make legal processes available, and find alternatives to detention centers that are appropriate and effective." 

Repeatedly, DHS has cited deterrence as justification for using the jail-like facilities, yet the agency has not provided evidence to substantiate that rationale. 

"Conditions are so dire in these families' countries of origin, folks are willing to risk everything just for the chance of a better, safe life in America,"? added Rep. Castro. "Instead of criminalizing women and children who arrive at our borders in desperation, let's address the problem driving this phenomenon and help foster stable, nonviolent societies in the Central American nations from which these refugees are fleeing."?

Text of the letter is included below. 


Secretary Jeh Johnson
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We are troubled by the Department of Homeland Security's continued detention of mothers and children in secure, jail-like facilities. For nearly one year we have been closely following the troublesome conditions of confinement, due process issues, and serious developmental and medical concerns of those being detained. Many of us have raised these matters in writing and continue to bring concerns to DHS through individual case examples and systemic complaints. We believe your Department has heard many of our concerns but has not fully grasped the serious harm being inflicted upon mothers and children in custody. We believe the only solution to this problem is to end the use of family detention.

The recent announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on family detention does not acknowledge that even detention for a brief period of time, especially in a secure setting, is detrimental to child development. Based upon his 39 years of clinical experience and interviews with families at the Karnes Residential Center, the Dean of Social Work at the University of Texas, Dr. Luis Zayas, found that the children at Karnes are “facing some of the most adverse childhood conditions of any children I have ever interviewed or evaluated." In his affidavit, Dean Zayas concluded that "detention has had serious and long-lasting impacts on the psychological health and well-being"? of the families at Karnes and that these impacts were evident in families who were detained for as little as two weeks.

We believe it is undeniable that detention in a secure facility is detrimental to mothers and children and is not reflective of our values as a Nation. Children require special protections and should not be placed in jail-like settings.

We are particularly troubled by the current practice of family detention because the detained population is largely comprised of refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home
countries. We have heard horrific stories of sexual assault, intense physical violence, kidnapping, and sex trafficking. These stories come not only from adult mothers, but also from young children who have been victims of such abuse. Detaining children who have already been victims of abuse exacerbates past trauma and raises unique and serious problems.

DHS has repeatedly used deterrence as a justification for the existence of family detention, but this theory has not been substantiated with compelling evidence. Moreover, a federal court in the District of Columbia rejected this argument and found that DHS cannot detain asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America for the purpose of deterring other migrants from entering the country. We agree and believe that the hypothetical recurrence of a future refugee flow does not justify the very real harm being inflicted upon mothers and children in a secure setting.

Lastly, we are disturbed by the fact that many mothers and children remain in family detention despite serious medical needs. In the past year, we have learned of the detention of children with intellectual disabilities, a child with brain cancer, a mother with a congenital heart disorder, a 14- day-old baby, and a 12-year-old child who has not eaten solid food for two months, among many others. Recently, we learned of a three-year-old child at the Berks County Residential Center who was throwing up for three days and was apparently offered water as a form of medical treatment. It was only after the child began throwing up blood on the fourth day that the facility finally transferred her to a hospital.3 This is simply unacceptable. We cannot continue to hear reports of serious harm to children in custody and do nothing about it.

We must prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing our enforcement objectives. Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and are confident that DHS has the capacity to honor our Nation’s longstanding commitment both to the protection and well-being of refugee families and to law enforcement and public safety. 


Hon. Zoe Lofgren 

Hon. Lucille Roybal-Allard 

Hon. Luis V. Gutierrez

Hon. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader 

Hon. Steny H. Hoyer, Democratic Whip

Hon. John Conyers, Jr. 

Hon. Charles B. Rangel

Hon. Marcy Kaptur 

Hon. Eliot L. Engel

Hon. Nita M. Lowey 

Hon. Jose E. Serrano

Hon. David E. Price 

Hon. Rosa L. DeLauro

Hon. Maxine Waters 

Hon. Jerrold Nadler

Hon. Corrine Brown 

Hon. Gene Green

Hon. Alcee L. Hastings 

Hon. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney 

Hon. Nydia M. Velazquez

Hon. Lloyd Doggett 

Hon. Chaka Fattah

Hon. Sheila Jackson Lee 

Hon. Elijah E. Cummings

Hon. Danny K. Davis 

Hon. Diana DeGette

Hon. Ruben Hinojosa 

Hon. Adam Smith

Hon. Gregory W. Meeks 

Hon. Lois Capps

Hon. Barbara Lee 

Hon. Janice D. Schakowsky

Hon. Steve Israel 

Hon. Rick Larsen

Hon. Betty McCollum 

Hon. Adam B. Schiff

Hon. Linda T. Sanchez 

Hon. G. K. Butterfield

Hon. Emanuel Cleaver 

Hon. Al Green

Hon. Gwen Moore 

Hon. Doris O. Matsui

Hon. Albio Sires 

Hon. Yvette D. Clarke

Hon. Steve Cohen 

Hon. Keith Ellison

Hon. Henry C. "Hank"? Johnson, Jr. 

Hon. Jerry McNerney

Hon. Peter Welch 

Hon. Donna F. Edwards

Hon. Gerald E. Connolly 

Hon. Ben Ray Luján

Hon. Chellie Pingree 

Hon. Paul Tonko

Hon. Mike Quigley 

Hon. Judy Chu

Hon. John Garamendi 

Hon. Theodore E. Deutch

Hon. David N. Cicilline 

Hon. Eleanor Holmes Norton

Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi 

Hon. Ruben Gallego

Hon. Sander M. Levin 

Hon. Jim McDermott

Hon. Xavier Becerra 

Hon. Robert C. "Bobby"? Scott

Hon. Sam Farr 

Hon. Earl Blumenauer

Hon. Ron Kind 

Hon. Loretta Sanchez

Hon. Michael E. Capuano 

Hon. Joseph Crowley

Hon. John B. Larson 

Hon. Grace F. Napolitano

Hon. Susan A. Davis 

Hon. Michael M. Honda

Hon. Raul M. Grijalva 

Hon. Tim Ryan

Hon. Chris Van Hollen 

Hon. Jared Polis

Hon. Bill Foster 

Hon. Julia Brownley

Hon. Tony Cardenas 

Hon. Lois Frankel

Hon. Jared Huffman 

Hon. Hakeem S. Jeffries

Hon. Derek Kilmer 

Hon. Grace Meng

Hon. Beto O'Rourke 

Hon. Raul Ruiz

Hon. Mark Takano 

Hon. Juan Vargas

Hon. Robin L. Kelly 

Hon. Katherine M. Clark

Hon. Donald Norcross 

Hon. Pete Aguilar

Hon. John Lewis 

Hon. Frank Pallone, Jr.

Hon. James E. Clyburn 

Hon. Anna G. Eshoo

Hon. Michael F. Doyle 

Hon. James P. McGovern

Hon. Robert A. Brady 

Hon. Frederica S. Wilson

Hon. Kathy Castor 

Hon. John A. Yarmuth

Hon. Karen Bass 

Hon. Cedric L. Richmond

Hon. Janice Hahn 

Hon. Suzan K. DelBene

Hon. Donald M. Payne, Jr. 

Hon. Alan Grayson

Hon. Dina Titus 

Hon. Joaquin Castro

Hon. Tammy Duckworth 

Hon. Joseph P. Kennedy, III

Hon. Daniel T. Kildee 

Hon. Alan Lowenthal

Hon. Michelle Lujan Grisham 

Hon. Mark Pocan

Hon. Eric Swalwell 

Hon. Marc A. Veasey

Hon. Donald S. Beyer, Jr. 

Hon. Bonnie Watson Coleman

Hon. Mark DeSaulnier 

Hon. Debbie Dingell

Hon. Ted Lieu 

Hon. Mark Takai

Hon. Norma J. Torres 

Hon. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan